Stop the stigma, start the conversation
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When I was a kid I would accidentally hike my jeans up too high and the way the seam hit my crotch made it feel like I had an insatiable itch. I would wiggle in my jeans, hitting different angles trying to satisfy the itch. But, it wasn’t a bad itch, like when you get a mosquito bite. It felt good, and I could’ve sworn the itch traveled all the way into my stomach. When my parents would see me trying to satiate this itch in my pants they’d always hushedly tell me to stop, that it wasn’t appropriate. I’d wonder, what was so inappropriate about trying to scratch an itch? Now I wonder why they didn’t just tell me I was masturbating.
My parents aren’t alone in not wanting to openly discuss the topic of masturbation. In fact, 55% of Americans say they don’t talk about masturbation, according to a 2018 survey conducted by sex toy company Tenga.
This statistic seems shocking since more than 90% of men and 75% of women masturbate. (The exact number is hard to nail down, as multiple surveys have come back with similar, but not exact, findings.) So, why do so many people masturbate, yet so little actually talk about it?
One reason may be that we underestimate how many people actually do it. Tenga’s 2016 survey found that respondents believed 84% of males masturbated, while 95% of men actually reported masturbating. Respondents believed even fewer women masturbated, guessing that only 68% did. But, the reality was that 81% of women who participated in the survey said they had masturbated in their lifetime.
Perhaps people believe that women masturbate so much less than men because female masturbation is seldom included in popular culture, and when it is the woman is usually portrayed as sexually promiscuous. Think: the scene in The 40-Year-Old Virgin where Elizabeth Banks uses a showerhead to masturbate in front of Steve Carell.
“It’s something bad girls do, not something every girl does,” wrote Ann Friedman for New York’s The Cut.
More recent shows like Fleabag and Broad City have begun to portray masturbation, especially female masturbation, as a completely normal occurrence not only when women are trying to release sexual tension, but also as a part of a woman’s normal daily routine.
For those who are religious, self-sex may not only be stigmatized but forbidden, as some believe sexual pleasure should only be had between a husband and wife.
“Generally, people who go to religious services more than once a week tend to be less likely to masturbate, less likely to use vibrators,” Dr. Debby Herbenick, lead author of the 2017 survey titled Sexual Diversity in the United States, told Health.
For so long, the topic of sex and masturbation has been stigmatized, leading many people to either not masturbate at all or feel ashamed when they do. Contrary to many old wives’ tales, pleasuring yourself won’t lead to blindness or abnormal hair growth or even a smaller member. In fact, masturbating can help to release sexual tension, reduce stress, lead to a better night sleep and even help relieve menstrual cramps.
Self-sex is also the safest form of sex, with no chance of transmitting an STD or resulting in an unwanted pregnancy. While this fact may not seem controversial, Clinton-era Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders was fired for suggesting that masturbation be taught to schoolchildren in an attempt to slow the spread of AIDS in the ‘90s.
Exploring your own genitals can also help you to better convey your sexual preferences to a partner. If you know how you like to touch yourself, there’s a better chance you’ll know how you want a partner to touch you.
Break out your mirror, your lotion, your sock and get to exploring your own body. There’s no shame in pleasuring yourself. And hopefully one day (if not today) we can talk about masturbation in an open and honest way.
Rachel Kutcher is a Staff Writer at Rowdy Magazine. She loves the rain, candles, fancy cocktails, collecting jars and New Girl’s Nick Miller. Her passions include destigmatizing sex, empowering women and exploring cultures through food. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.